The Ultimate Build Guide For Your 2.0T GTI and Golf R - From Mild to Wild


You recently picked up a VW MK7 GTI or Golf R. Rightfully so, from the moment you picked it up from the dealership or an enthusiast's driveway, you were stoked! And that’s 100% justified because they’re awesome cars. Meticulously engineered, superb bang for the buck, fun to drive, sporty, and looks great…

The only problem is, if you’re like us, you'll become bored with it after a few months. As sports car fanatics ourselves, we get it! It’s in our sports-car DNA to tinker with our cars to make them even more fun. We pop the hood (or bonnet if you’re not a yankee) and we think to ourselves, what can I do and where do I start? It’s time to make your car uniquely YOURS. 

For the purpose of this article, we are going to break down how to transform your car with IE performance upgrades into 5 stages: stock, mild, heating up, getting hot, and WILD! 

Graphic of tach with stock, mild, heating up, getting hot, wild

Note - As we proceed through the different levels, you should have already installed the performance upgrades mentioned in prior levels. Also, before you purchase anything be sure to double check the fitment tables for your year, make and model. VW/Audi has the tendency to make changes often. 

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 1

The car may not actually be boring per-say, but that doesn’t change the fact that YOU are bored with it. So where do you start? What’s next? First things first, let’s get on the same page of where your car is sitting performance wise in stock form. 

The Volkswagen GTI or Golf R have similar engines that are based on the 2.0T Gen 3 TSI power plant. Additionally, they are built on the MQB chassis which is modular and used on nearly countless VW and Audi models. To name a few MQB-based models are A3, S3, A4, A5, GTI, Golf R, RS3 (yup, an RS3!), and even a base model 1.4L Jetta. That said, there are a few key differences between the Volkswagen GTI and Golf R. Here’s a quick summary:


  • Power: 220 horsepower at 4700 rpm, 258 Torque at 1500 rpm (varies slightly based on model year) 
  • FWD/AWD: front wheel drive 
  • Curb weight (manual trans): 3 doors, 2972 lbs / 5 doors, 3031 lbs
  • Curb weight (DSG automatic trans): 3 doors, 3027 lbs / 5 doors 3086 lbs 
  • Available in manual and dsg transmissions 
  • Turbocharger: IHI IS20 turbocharger 
  • Less options and frills than the Golf R

MK7 Golf R

  • 315 horsepower at 5600 rpm, 295 torque at 2000 rpm
  • FWD/AWD: all wheel drive (haldex) 
  • Curb weight - 3481 (Notice it’s quite a bit heavier than the GTI)
  • Doors: only available in 5 doors in the United States (3 doors available in other markets) 
  • DSG automatic transmission only (no manual transmission in the United States)
  • Turbocharger: IHI IS38 turbo (larger than the GTI version)
  • More features and frills than the GTI

    MK7 Golf R

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 2

There’s a good chance that this is your daily driver. You drive it to work, the gym, and occasionally take the long way home through a scenic canyon. It’s fun, comfortable, and reliable. However, when you are headed out the door after work you may need to blow off some steam by flooring it from the red light. It’s time to loosen your tie and take a drive. That’s where IE comes in! 

But before we start installing performance parts you may want to avoid any hassles and keep your car 50 state legal. In a nutshell, being 50 state legal means that you will meet your local emissions smog tests and any visual inspections. Thankfully, IE has invested a lot of money for product certifications to make this possible for you. When you visit our website you will notice that many of our products are approved by CARB (California Air Resources Board). If a product is CARB approved that also means it’s legal in all 50 states. 

With that in mind a few great IE mods that fit this mold are the IE cold air intake, turbo muffler delete, and Stage 1 ECU tune. 

IE Cold air intake & turbo inlet pipe

MK7 IE cold air intake

The first mod for many car enthusiasts is an upgraded air intake. A cold air intake lets your engine breathe better than the stock unit. It delivers cooler, and more air into the turbocharger. As a result, it will add up to 10 horsepower or more. The addition of an IE Turbo Inlet Pipe will add about another 5-10hp. Another perk that people love about cold air intakes is that by letting the engine breathe, you can actually hear it as well. Turn off the soundaktor* and listen to real engine noise! Also, it’s 50 state legal (see product page for more info) for a hassle free, emissions compliant, upgrade. 

*What’s a soundaktor?" It’s a small speaker that is installed under the dash in many VW/Audi vehicles that produces fake engine noise. Our recommendation is to remove it or disable it using a VAG COM cable and listen to the REAL sounds the engine makes. 

IE Stage 1 Performance ECU Tune 

Tuning the ECU (engine control unit) is the best bang for the buck, period. Dollar for dollar it can’t be beat. With an IE stage one tune you’ll receive up to a 97 horsepower and 95ft/lb of torque bump over the stock power levels. The addition of a stage 1 ECU tune will transform your car from stock into a canyon navigating machine that you’ll love. Compared to stock, you can expect better drivability, more power, smoother power delivery, and better throttle response. 

MK7 IE stage 1 ECU software

What does stage 1 actually mean? 

Most importantly, it is designed to operate with all stock hardware. It is possible to run an IE Cold Air Intake, IE turbo muffler delete, and IE Turbo Inlet Pipe with the software, but it’s not required. On many MQB cars, our stage 1 software is CARB legal for a hassle free experience (see details on the product page for applicable years, makes, and models). Installing the software is a breeze and can be quickly performed in your driveway in about 45 minutes using the IE Powerlink flash tool. If you don’t want to do the install yourself there are lots of IE dealers who can do it for you.  

MK7 Carb approved

IE Stage 1 TCU Tune 

Tuning the TCU (Transmission Control Unit) is just as easy at the ECU. In our opinion the IE DSG Tune transforms the way the car drives, and is the way it should have come from the factory! Some of the fun features included are lighting fast gear shifts, raised RPM shift points, and more aggressive launch control from a standstill. 

Much like the ECU tune, you can install TCU software in less than an hour from the home garage. If you’re using our high torque ECU file, which all DSG cars should, a TCU tune is required as well. Make sure you check out the requirements on the ECU tune product page.

MK7 IE Stage 1 TCU software

Exhaust Upgrades

At this stage in the modding journey we recommend sticking with a performance catback. By skipping an upgraded downpipe, this will keep everything 100% legal from an emissions standpoint, and adds an aggressive exhaust note that everyone will enjoy (inside and outside of the car). 

MK7 IE catback exhaust

Suspension Upgrades 

Performance lowering springs are often the first step to take to improve the handling and overall road feel. In stock form these cars  tend to feel a bit “squishy” and will suffer from a good amount of body roll in the corners. Being stiffer and lower will improve grip in the corners and will make you feel more connected to the car. On top of upgraded performance springs, the addition of sway bars will reduce the amount of oversteer by making the chassis more rigid. If you feel like your car is pushing to the outside of the corner under spirited driving, you’re probably right. Adding a rear sway bar will reduce this and will add a lot more confidence while cornering.  

MK7 IE Suspension


This is a very simple one so we won’t elaborate much. We all know one of the first things we do to our performance cars is add a set of nice aftermarket wheels. They look far better than stock and can also have some advantages such as being lighter or being able to use wider tires for more grip. A few noteworthy brands to check out are BBS, HRE, Enkei, and a million more. You can spend anywhere from $250 a wheel to $2500 depending on how crazy you get. 

MK7 Golf R wheels

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 3

Do you still want more? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered…  

IE Stage 2 ECU Software

The next major upgrade is going to be to jump to stage 2 ECU software. By upgrading to stage 2 software you will have another large bump in horsepower and torque over stage 1. 

The IE Stage 2 ECU Tune for a MK7 GTI, using 93 octane gasoline, will yield 114 horsepower and 119 ft/lb torque over stock power levels! Even more impressively, a MK7 Golf R will benefit from 146 horsepower and 176 torque compared to stock. That is a huge performance gain for a small amount of money. One thing to check before installing stage two however is your local emissions laws. Our stage two is engineered for off-road use. 

MK7 IE Stage 2 ECU software

IE High Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP)

The IE HPFP delivers 50% more fuel to your engine and is REQUIRED for stage 2 software. The most important thing when installing an HPFP is to make sure it meets the fueling requirements of the tune. It is also important to note that you should not use an upgraded HPFP unless required by the software. Installing an upgraded pump on a stage 1 ECU tune or stock car will make it run poorly.  


IE FDS Intercooler 

Upgrading the stock intercooler is an ESSENTIAL part of any performance build. Without a sufficiently sized intercooler, you will be robbing yourself of a lot of horsepower (that you paid for with the ECU tune). In all honesty, even the stock intercooler is insufficient for the car in its stock form. On especially hot summer days, the IAT (intake air temperatures) that feed your engine will rise immensely. Unable to keep up, the stock intercooler will result in the ECU automatically reducing horsepower to protect the engine. It is 100% possible that when an aggressive driver hits the road race track can overheat the engine (seriously though, we’ve done this ourselves during testing).    

MK7 IE FDS intercooler

All that said, the IE FDS Intercooler will outperform the stock unit for a couple major reasons:

For one, it’s 137% larger, which will lower air intake temperature greatly, and thus prevent major power losses.

Secondly, our innovative FDS intercooler technology makes better use of the intercooler size by equally distributing heat across the core. On the other hand, competitors' intercoolers that do not have the FDS system, inefficiently do not utilize the entire core evenly. Illustrated by the animation below, you will notice that without FDS air mainly flows across the bottom of the intercooler core. When you add FDS flow fins, it is distributed evenly across the entire core.

Lastly, the install is hassle free. The IE FDS Intercooler uses all the factory mounting points and the stock intercooler hoses. This makes for a perfect fit and makes the install process as easy as possible. Upgraded hoses are available to make the most of the intercooler but are not required. 

IE Cast Downpipe  

In order to upgrade to stage 2, an IE Cast Downpipe is required. To achieve the power levels of the stage 2 tune, exhaust flow restrictions caused by the factory unit must be reduced. The high-flow catalyst and larger diameter piping of the IE Cast Downpipe will allow the turbocharger to perform to its full potential. 

One thing to keep in mind is the IE Cast Downpipe is sold for off road use only and is intended for the drag strip or circuit track. Driving with this product installed on the street may not meet your local emissions requirements, so this is something you should look into if that is a concern of yours.

MK7 IE cast downpipe

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 4

Are you ready to go really fast? We’re ready to help you bump it up another notch, so let’s do it!  At this point it's starting to get serious as we’re crossing into 400+ horsepower and torque levels. To do this we’ll be using high octane fuels, higher ethanol content, and larger turbos. 

IE TrueFlex Fuel Harness 

The IE TrueFlex harness uses an ethanol sensor and a custom wiring harness that feeds information from the ethanol sensor to the factory ECU. By feeding this information to the factory ECU it allows the ECU to adjust automatically to different ethanol levels (sometimes called mixtures or blends). Why does this matter? Let’s explain further…

Firstly, you can make more power as the amount of ethanol increases. Overly simplified, the main reason for this is that ethanol burns cooler than gasoline which results in lower IATs, and thus makes more horsepower.

Secondly, by adjusting automatically to different ethanol blends, it is less critical to mix fuels correctly. Without adjusting automatically, if you mix your ethanol blend incorrectly, critical engine failure can occur (Boom!). However, don’t be scared because IE will keep you safe with our True Flex technology and safety features customized into our software. Also remember that in order to do this you need the upgrades mentioned above.  

Hybrid Turbos 

What is a hybrid turbo? Hybrid turbo is a term that means the turbo drops into the factory location without any modifications. Sometimes they are even made using the factory turbine housing and upgrading to larger internals. They are typically affordable and a great solution to add more power. Also, since they are drop-in, it’s much easier to install than more complicated turbo setups that may require more customizations. 

One of the most common Hybrid turbos for the MK7 GTI and Golf R is the Garrett 2260 PowerMax. With this turbo and IE’s matching software the horsepower levels jump all the way up to 450-485 horsepower depending on the fuel that’s used. With the IE True Flex harness and a high ethanol blend you will make the most of this turbo and achieve the 485HP mark. 

MK7 Garret 2260 turbo

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 5

At this point we’re ready to bust out the drag racing tires (potentially slicks or drag radials) and set some records. In this power realm you will be exceeding 500 horsepower and torque. At these serious power levels it is necessary to upgrade engine internals. In most cases these will be custom setups and often need to be fabricated from the ground up. Unless you’re ready to spend some serious cash it’s probably best to stay in what we referred to as “step 4 - it's getting hot in here.”

Before you jump in, one aspect that is often overlooked when building an engine from scratch is the cost of machine work and labor charges. We highly recommend that you research this thoroughly as these two factors will often be more expensive than the parts themselves. 

If you decide to build your engine you will need a couple major upgrades.

IE MK7 Golf R Drag racing

Connecting Rods

One thing to know about IE is that we started as an engine parts company. It was several years after the company was started that we developed our own software, intakes, intercooler and more! 

That said, connecting rods were actually our FIRST product at IE. You could say we know a thing or two about them. The two main types we offer are H-beam connecting rods and Tuscan I-beam connecting rods. 

H-beam rods have a great strength to weight ratio. We rate our to about 600 horsepower and torque. However, if you plan to exceed the 600 horsepower mark, we recommend upgrading to our strongest connecting rods, the Tuscan I-beam. These are designed for engines that are making up to 1000 horsepower and loads of torque. Many sets of these connecting rods have been used in world record setting cars. 

MK7 GTI IE Connecting rods


Our go to piston recommendation for MQB cars are mahle pistons. They are tough and have robust piston rings. Conveniently, they also utilize a low expansion alloy that makes them great for street builds or crazy track builds. They are available for stock bore size (82.5mm) and oversized bores (83mm). Keep in mind that if you opt to use oversized pistons, you will also need to machine the cylinders for the larger size. This can be expensive so do your research first. Typically, most people only upgrade to oversized pistons if the stock cylinder bores are damaged.

MK7 GTI IE pistons

Valve Spring Kit  

Stock valve springs simply do not have the required spring rate as cylinder pressures climb. It’s our recommendation that when you are building an “all out” engine that you upgrade the valve springs. At a certain point it becomes a requirement. However that point can vary depending on several factors such as boost levels and cylinder pressures.

MK7 GTI IE Valve spring kit

Upgraded Valves

The stock valves are simply not up to the task at these power levels. Superior alloys withstand higher temperatures and will withstand pretty much all you can throw at them. We typically recommend Supertech exhaust and intake valves as they are great valve at a great price.

MK7 GTI IE valve kit

Contact us 

We hope you found this information helpful and informative. Upgrading your car with performance parts can be complicated depending on how much experience you have with it. If you find yourself needing more help please reach out to our team of experts and we will help you further.